1. News

Testimony ties Trump closer to pressure on Ukraine

Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press

Published Saturday, November 16, 2019 10:38AM EST

Last Updated Saturday, November 16, 2019 10:14PM EST

WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, U.S. President Donald Trump’s emissary to the European Union, had a message when he met with a prime Ukrainian official.

Sondland mentioned important U.S. navy help to Ukraine may be freed up if the nation’s prime prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” a U.S. official advised investigators. Burisma is the fuel firm in Ukraine the place Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.

Sondland relayed the trade moments later to Tim Morrison, then a National Security Council aide. His non-public testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Morrison recounted that Sondland additionally advised him he was discussing the Ukraine issues straight with Trump.

Morrison’s testimony ties Trump extra carefully to the central cost from Democrats pursuing impeachment: that Trump held up U.S. navy assist to Ukraine in trade for investigations into Democrats and Biden’s household. Morrison’s testimony additionally contradicts a lot of what Sondland advised congressional investigators throughout his personal closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.

Both Morrison and Sondland are scheduled to testify publicly subsequent week as a part of the historic, high-stakes impeachment proceedings into the nation’s 45th president. Democrats cost that Trump abused his workplace for private political achieve, whereas the president and his allies argue that the method is politically motivated and that nothing within the testimony to date meets the bar for impeachment.

Transcripts from the closed-door testimony from Morrison, a longtime Republican defence hawk in Washington, and Jennifer Williams, a particular adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence on Russia and Europe, have been launched Saturday as investigators accelerated and deepened the probe. They offered one other window into the alarm inside the authorities over Ukraine pressure.

Immediately after the trade with Sondland throughout a world gathering in Warsaw, Morrison known as his boss, John Bolton, then Trump’s nationwide safety adviser.

“Stay out of it,” Bolton advised him, “brief the lawyers.”

For Morrison, Burisma was a catch-all for a “bucket” of investigations — of Democrats and the household of Joe Biden — that he wished to “stay away from.” They had nothing to do with “the proper policy process that I was involved in on Ukraine,” he testified.

Morrison mentioned Sondland and Trump had spoken roughly 5 instances between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in U.S. help was withheld from Ukraine earlier than it was launched.

While some, together with Trump himself, have begun to query Sondland’s data of occasions, Morrison advised House investigators the ambassador “related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President.”

Pressed by Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee main the probe, as to whether or not Sondland had truly spoken to the president, Morrison mentioned he had verified it every time.

Pence, to date, has been a extra unseen determine within the impeachment inquiry, however testimony from Williams raised contemporary questions on what Pence knew about Trump’s actions towards Ukraine.

Pence was additionally on the Warsaw gathering. For the brand new authorities of Ukraine, located between NATO allies and Russia, the safety assist Congress had already permitted was a lifeline to the West.

Williams was among the many staffers within the White House Situation Room who listened and took notes throughout Trump’s July 25 name when he requested Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favour.” A whistleblower’s grievance about that decision helped spark the House impeachment investigation.

Williams testified that Trump’s dialogue on the decision of particular investigations struck her as “unusual and inappropriate” and appeared to level to “other motivations” for holding up the navy assist.

After the decision, Williams advised investigators, she put the White House’s tough transcript into the into the vice-president’s each day briefing guide.

“I just don’t know if he read it,” she mentioned.

Williams corroborated the testimony of a earlier witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC aide on the decision, who mentioned the White House dropped the phrase “Burisma” from the transcript. She mentioned in an addendum to her testimony that Zelenskiy had talked about the phrase “Burisma” within the name.

Vindman and Williams at scheduled to testify collectively throughout a public impeachment listening to on Tuesday morning.

The White House’s determination to put the transcript of the July 25 name on a extremely labeled server has drawn eager curiosity all through the probe. But Morrison mentioned the bizarre transfer was unintentional.

Morrison mentioned he was involved if the decision obtained out it could be politically damaging. He talked to White House lawyer John Eisenberg they usually agreed that entry must be restricted, he testified.

But Morrison mentioned Eisenberg later advised him that he didn’t intend for the decision abstract to be positioned on a extremely labeled server. Eisenberg’s employees apparently put it there by mistake, he mentioned.

As the transcripts have been launched, impeachment investigators wrapped up a uncommon Saturday session interviewing Mark Sandy, a little-known profession official on the Office of Management and Budget who was concerned in key conferences in regards to the assist package deal.

Sandy’s identify had barely come up in earlier testimony. But it did on one specific date: July 25, the day of Trump’s name with Zelenskiy. That day, a authorized doc with Sandy’s signature directed a freeze of the safety funds to Ukraine, in accordance to testimony.

Throughout Morrison’s account, he largely confirmed testimony from present and former officers about what has been described as a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, typically at odds with U.S. nationwide safety pursuits.

A few days after the Warsaw assembly, Sondland was on the cellphone telling Morrison Sept. 7 he had simply gotten off a name with the president.

Morrison mentioned Sondland associated that Trump assured him there have been no strings being hooked up to the navy assist for Ukraine.

“The president told him there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelenskiy must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it,” Morrison testified.

Morrison had what he known as a “sinking feeling” that the help could not in the end be launched. About that point, three congressional committees mentioned they have been launching inquiries into efforts by Trump and Giuliani to examine the Bidens.

At a Sept. 11 assembly on the White House, Pence and GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio “convinced the president that the aid should be disbursed immediately,” mentioned Morrison, who mentioned he was briefed in regards to the assembly however didn’t attend it. “The case was made to the president that it was the appropriate and prudent thing to do.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Cal Woodward in Washington and Kathleen Ronayne in Long Beach, California, contributed to this report.

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